American Sniper


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

American Sniper
"Fable and fact make an uneasy mix."

Two autobiographical true stories of Americans embroiled in conflict arrive in cinemas this week. Documentary Point And Shoot, which holds the narcissism and naivety of its self-styled American "freedom fighter" in Libya up for the world to see and this Clint Eastwood biopic, which is determined to celebrate its all-American gunslinger/Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle with a minimum of questions asked about the world beyond the end of his own garden path. Both suffer from the problem of viewing conflict solely through the prism of American idealism.

This is not to say that Eastwood's film isn't worth a look and you might even say there is something subversive about the fact audiences may well come away from it thinking about the positive aspects of more gun control, even though the subject is never mentioned outright. He brings an intensity to this story of war through the eyes of Kyle, one of which is frequently trained down the sight of a long-range rifle, ready to pick-off anyone on the streets of Iraq - young children and women included - if he feels they pose a threat to his "brothers". Bradley Cooper, bulked up beyond the point you would have believed possible, plays him with a focused sincerity that, coupled with the script, soft pedals on the real-life Kyle's less appealing attributes, such as the racism which, in his book led him to brand Iraqis "savages".

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The film opens with him making his first kill - a child brandishing a grenade - with a simple but effective match-cut throwing us back to his first deer kill in childhood, that leads to a lengthy flashback showing how his finger comes again to be on the trigger.

Kyle has had the notion of protecting others drummed into him by his father, who tells him that that in a world of sheep and wolves, the trick is to be a sheep dog. It's doubtful whether the average sheepdog killed upwards of 160 wolves and called it duty but Kyle has no problem with his job and Eastwood's film pushes the idea that "war is hell" misses the point, it's coming home that is truly infernal.

Home for Kyle is as American as apple pie, with a loving wife (Sienna Miller) and two kids. Coming back after the concentration and decision-making required on the streets of Fallujah, however, is something the gruelling SEAL training doesn't prepare him for. The post-traumatic stress disorder, never mentioned by name, that he suffers from is, again, viewed entirely from his perspective - he sees it not as a result of any lingering worries he may have about killing people but because he can't do the sheepdog thing any more.

The film though gripping and enjoyable as a piece of Hollywood ficiton, is problematic because of its factual origins. By presenting Kyle as a protector in a kind of "new Wild West" against "natives" we never get to know, Eastwood fully allows the viewer to merely nod sagely in agreement with Kyle "The Legend", sympathetic to his plight but without so much as a backward glance to the blood of others he waded through. It also presents PTSD in the most simplistic terms, suggesting that it doesn't take much more than a quick chat with other veterans to bring you back from the abyss. Fable and fact make an uneasy mix.

Reviewed on: 15 Jan 2015
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Story of a SEAL sniper who became a "legend" but struggled to leave his army life behind.
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Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Jason Hall, Scott McEwen, James Defelice, based on the book by Chris Kyle

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Cole Konis, Ben Reed, Elise Robertson, Luke Sunshine, Troy Vincent, Brandon Salgado Telis, Keir O'Donnell, Marnette Patterson, Jason Hall, Billy Miller, Leonard Roberts, Jason Walsh, Reynaldo Gallegos

Year: 2014

Runtime: 132 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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If you like this, try:

The Hurt Locker
Point And Shoot